You may have heard of their pranks – posing as oil company executives, sneaking into high profile events, creating fake websites for politicians – the list goes on and on. For more than a decade The Yes Men have carried out elaborate hijinks in the name of the causes that are dear to them. We recently corresponded with The Yes Men about how they use film as a tool for activism.
Their new film, The Yes Men Are Revolting addresses climate change and activism fatigue and will be in theaters starting June 12th. It will also be available on Vimeo on Demand and iTunes starting June 9th, 2015.
Sarah Stein Kerr: Why is film the medium of choice for the Yes Men?
The Yes Men: We’re about to launch our third feature film, and we’re doing it with a renewed energy and faith in film as a medium. We’ve always meant for our actions to impact public opinion, and we know that by giving journalists an excuse to cover issues that matter, the films do work to some degree. But the impact of a news story never feels like it’s lasting. With a movie, you can take people on a ride they’ll really remember, and that might change their life. That’s the reason we first made a movie over a decade ago, and the reason we’re making this one: to have a more lasting effect.
The trailer for The Yes Men Are Revolting.
Why did you choose climate change as the focus for your third film?
The Yes Men: All issues are interconnected: the forces preventing us from taking action on climate change are the same ones preventing us from achieving universal health care, a living wage, free higher education, and other basic marks of modern civilization. They’re the exact same forces that people were protesting in Seattle in 1999. And just as the World Trade Organization (WTO) was a great focus then, one reason climate change is a great focus now is that the climate movement has tremendous momentum; there were over 300,000 people on the streets in NY in November, and we expect to see over a million in Paris in December for the UN Climate Conference (join us there!).
One of the themes of this film is how activists maintain the motivation to keep fighting for change. Why was this an important subject for you to address?
The Yes Men: We don’t have the money to poll the public, so we’ve operated largely on faith. And faith is a thing that is sometimes lost. In The Yes Men are Revolting you’ll see us lose hope, but then later regain the faith that action does matter. Our watershed moment came in Zuccotti Park, the center of the Occupy Wall Street protests, when so many young people we’d never met took time to tell us they’d gotten interested in activism after seeing our films. And here they were! So even though we sometimes hadn’t realized it, even though we’d sometimes felt like we’d failed at this or that effort, we’d actually always been part of a movement that was now doing something really amazing. And by now I think most people realize just what a success Occupy was, and how it’s just one part of a much bigger movement against extreme inequality that — like pretty much all great movements — is bound to succeed eventually.
With this new film we wanted to take people along on this voyage of discovery because one of the reasons people don’t get active, or that they stop being active, is because they don’t realize that activism actually works, even when it doesn’t seem to, because there’s a really big movement it’s part of. So that’s how to not lose faith, especially when the subject of your activism — in this case climate change — seems huge and hopeless: realize you’re part of a movement.
What kind of impact do you hope the film achieves?
The Yes Men: Our last films resulted in deluges of email from people who wanted to get involved in the kind of work that we do. We didn’t have a way to accommodate that.
This time, we do: the Action Switchboard, an online platform where we (or veterans of our best shenanigans) can help anyone with an idea to refine it, find collaborators or other resources, and figure out how to pull it off and get press. You can also join up with any number of existing projects.
For those who want a bit more guidance, we’re starting an 8-week online workshop, the Incubator, to take people through the process of devising and carrying out a media action around something they care about. It’ll be open to individuals as well as organizations large and small. We’ve done this kind of workshop quite a bit, in person, and a number of great actions have come out of them, so we have high hopes now that we’re broadening our reach to the whole Internet!
Who is your target audience? How do you plan to reach them?
The Yes Men: We want to reach activists — for what we hope is the cheerleading effect of the film’s story — and especially newbies who might join the movement. As a gateway drug to the film we’re offering some free content on Bittorrent and elsewhere.
We’re hoping that people who see the free stuff will also buy the film. It’s pretty cheap to get it on Vimeo on Demand. Then, ultimately we are hoping that all those people that see it also feel motivated to act whether it be with the help of the Action Switchboard or Incubator, or in some other way. It’s now or never — so let’s make it now!